The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 676/Curious Nests and Nesting Sites Observed near Thetford
CURIOUS NESTS AND NESTING SITES OBSERVED
By W.G. Clarke.
The nidification of our English-breeding birds must always have an especial interest to ornithologists, an interest which is accentuated by the fact that the abnormal is never wanting. Almost all the charm of searching for the domiciles of our feathered friends would be lost, if it were not for the constant element of uncertainty as to where the nests will be placed, and the consequent delight at finding them in some unique position. This variability is far less marked in nests than in nesting sites, therefore my notes upon curious nests are very brief.
A nest which was in my possession until quite recently was found in a hawthorn hedge at Lakenheath, Suffolk. A Wren had built its nest about three feet from the ground, and upon the dome of this a Linnet had also built, the two nests being firmly interwoven. Both birds were sitting upon their eggs at the same time, and safely reared their respective broods. Another twin-nest even more remarkable was found this year in the hamlet of Snarehill, Thetford. The nest of a Blackbird was situated in a wild apple tree adjacent to a convenient crotch. A Chaffinch thought this crotch a desirable site for a nest, and there built it, weaving its side into the loose bents surrounding the Blackbird's nest. Records of communistic nests are not very abundant, but instances occur yearly in this locality of joint nests of the Common and Red-legged Partridge.
In the last week of May in this year, a friend of mine found eggs of the Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge in the same nest, a few miles from Thetford. Mr. F. Norgate found a nest on Santon Warren which contained eight Teal's, one Duck's, and several Pheasant's eggs. A nest of the Song Thrush which I saw at Santon Downham in May, 1893, contained grass in the interior three inches in height, which seemed to have sprung from grass seeds in the mud with which the interior of the nest was plastered. There was only one egg, of a dull blue colour, with maroon spots on the larger end.
Swallows often build their nests in remarkable situations. Every year their dwellings may be seen in the coprolite sheds belonging to artificial manure works near Thetford, where the smell is indescribable. One's olfactory organs must be affected before realizing what it is; but these Swallows seem to pay no heed, and rear their broods each year in safety. Swallows also build in the shops of the engineering works in this town, threading their way unerringly through the revolving shafting, and quite unmindful of the clang of the machinery. Nests, too, are to be found each year on the joists beneath Aldeby Swing Bridge, near Beccles, continually subject to the rattling and rolling of the trains above them, and the snorting of steamers beneath. In a boat-house at Martham this year, a Swallow's nest was found built in the folds of a sail which had there been stored. I was also struck by the fact in a recent visit to Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire, that almost without exception there was a Swallow's nest in each of the pointed arches of the Early English windows. But for queer nooks and crannies in which to place nests, no bird can approach the Blue Titmouse in its choice. It would seem to be the exception rather than the rule to find a nest of this bird where one would expect it. Each year there is a nest in the letter-box of the Ink Factory at Barsham, and for many years a "blue jimmy" used the village postal wall-box at Kilverstone for purposes of nidification. In 1894 a Blue Tit safely reared its brood in a crack about half an inch in width in the axle of one of the staunches on the river Little Ouse, although people in crossing from one side of the river to the other generally used this axle as a hand-rail. At the same time there were eight callow youngsters in a nest built in the crack between two bricks from which the mortar had been weathered away in a wall near Thetford. In the spring of this year a friend found a Blue Tit's nest in a hollow gate-post, and with misdirected zeal split the post down the middle until the nest was reached. In spite of this, the parent bird refused to leave the eggs, which were on the point of being hatched, allowing herself to be lifted off the nest without any sign of fear. A still more curious instance has been published in the 'Transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society,' wherein it is recorded that about 1819 a man named Camplin climbed a gibbet in the parish of Wereham, Norfolk, upon which had been executed a person named Bennett, the trial taking place at Thetford. In the head of the skeleton a Blue Tit had built its nest, and the terrified family of nine or ten flew out on being disturbed. Another peculiar instance occurred this year at Stow Bedon Station, as related to me by the station-master. Two nests of the Blue Titmouse were there built in the point-box, one of them containing six and the other two eggs—the nests being built by different birds. Both nests were lined with feathers which the station-master's wife had turned out of a pillow. Despite the fact that the position of the nests was changed each time the points were moved, and that eight or nine persons were often observing this curiosity at one time, the six eggs were safely hatched and the young fledged—the other nest being deserted.
For many years past there has been a Great Tit's nest in a pump in the garden at Great Fakenham Rectory, which is always undisturbed by the owner—an ardent naturalist. In Gallow's Pits, Thetford, criminals were formerly interred after execution by the manorial or episcopal courts which could then enforce the penalty of death; now the pits are used as receptacles for rubbish. Amongst the miscellaneous collection of kettles to be found there, a Robin generally builds its nest year by year. Starlings notoriously nest in queer places. In a railway bridge at Santon, Norfolk, six bricks were missing, three on each side. Of the six holes, five were tenanted this year by Starlings. In the crotch of a beech tree in a plantation at Kilverstone, Norfolk, a piece of oak-bark had become fixed about three feet from the ground. Upon this bark a Nightjar had deposited its two eggs, in preference to the bare earth. A somewhat similar case occurred this year on Peddar's Way, East Wretham. A piece of the outer bark of a pine tree had been blown into the middle of a hawthorn bush, the concave side being uppermost. In this a Blackbird's nest had been built, the rim of the nest being level on either side with the edge of the bark. A short distance away was a big stack of fallen pines—relics of the great gale of 1895. The heart of one of these trees had rotted, and in the cavity thus formed was a Redstart's nest containing three eggs. In 1893 one of these birds built its nest in a hole from which a brick had been displaced, not a yard from a gate through which hundreds of persons passed weekly, but it was not until the young birds were hatched that the nest was discovered. A few Black-headed Gulls nest yearly at Langmere, about four miles north of Thetford. On a certain Sunday in this year a gentleman found a Coot's nest on this mere close to the shore. On the next Sunday a log had been thrown quite across the Coot's nest, a Blackheaded Gull's nest built upon the log, and one egg laid—all in a week. With this I will conclude these bare facts concerning curious nests and nesting sites that have come within my personal knowledge.
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